By: Jamie Samuelsen
The Ping-Pong nature of this Lions season has left all of us scratching our heads. Super Bowl winning coach Jimmy Johnson thinks the Lions may be one of the best, most talented teams in football. Jaded Lions fans are convinced that this team isn’t that good and is primed for another disappointing finish.
Whichever side of the fence you’re standing on; let’s make one thing perfectly clear. The last three games should determine if Jim Schwartz keeps his job as head coach.
If the Lions make the playoffs, he’s safe. If the Lions lose out to the Bears or the Packers, he should be gone, plain and simple.
That may sound extreme to write about the coach of a first place team that still controls it’s own destiny in the NFC North. There’s not another first place coach in the league who is currently sitting on the hot seat. But there’s also not another first place coach that’s lost three of his last four games and is rapidly losing control of the weakest division in the NFL.
Schwartz is not a perfect coach. His flaws are obvious and well documented. There have been off-field issues involving his players. His teams consistently play sloppy and mistake-prone football. Schwartz himself has made highly questionable coaching decisions that have either directly or indirectly cost the Lions wins in very winnable games. And his career coaching record after Sunday’s debacle in Philadelphia is 29-48.
But even if you put all those things aside, he still stands on very shaky ground for two reasons that supersede everything else.
1) A month ago, the Lions were 6-3 coming off a tough road win at Soldier Field. They were in first place in the division with seven games remaining against teams with a combined record at the time of 23-42. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was trying to come back from an injured groin but hasn’t played since the Lions game. Packers All-Pro Aaron Rodgers has missed the past six games with a broken collarbone and the Packers are 1-4-1 in his absence. This division was essentially being handed over to the Lions and they’ve responded by going 1-3 despite being favored in three of the four games. During that stretch, they’ve turned the ball over 15 times while forcing just 4 turnovers. The division should be clinched by now and easily could have been if the Lions took care of the football. Instead, the Packers at 6-6-1 and the Bears at 6-6 are right on the Lions heels.
2) Tell me another team in the division that boasts the star power that the Lions do. They have the best wide receiver in the game (Calvin Johnson). They have the best quarterback in the division (Matthew Stafford) who’s not currently nursing an injury. They have the best defensive player in the division (Ndamukong Suh). And they also have standout players like Reggie Bush, Nick Fairley, Rob Sims, Glover Quin and Brandon Pettigrew who are playing as well as they’ve every played in their career. For years, the Lions struggles have been about talent, or a lack thereof. The talent is here. GM Martin Mayhew had an outstanding draft and free agent season to bolster the roster that was already in place. This team is ready to win and should be winning. And the fact that they’re not falls squarely on the shoulders of Schwartz.
This is not over by a long shot. Only a few days ago, we were praising the Lions for their total dismantling of the Packers on Thanksgiving Day. It was that performance which prompted Jimmy Johnson to make the bold claims that he did about the Lions talent level. Is he exaggerating? Perhaps. But there is no doubt that this team is talented. And there’s no doubt that their record should be well north of 7-6.
Lions fans have a hard time believing in this team and I have a hard time blaming them. But I do believe in this talent. And I believe this talent should shine through in these last three winnable games.
If it doesn’t, I do believe another man should have the chance to coach them in 2014.